Although 2014 has already started, that doesn’t mean that new year celebrations have finished! Coming up on January 31st is Seollal. Seollal is the Korean New Year, usually falling on the day of the second new moon after Winter Solstice. This family holiday is full of traditions and fun activities lasting over three days, much better than our measly New Year’s Eve and Day! South Korea follow the same lunar calendar as the Chinese but because the UK is still fairly unfamiliar to Korean traditions, the UK parades and public celebrations for the lunar new year focuses and centers around Chinese traditions but last year we saw quite a few people donning Hanboks in the parade and there’s no reason not to get into the spirit and try out some Seollal traditions in your own home!
Rituals and Rites
Much like any holiday it’s important to remember the loved ones in your life and Seollal does just this. Seollal is very much about the family, so in Korea people will take the time to go back home and spend it with relatives. Koreans pay respect to ancestors by preparing various foods for them called charye, as they believe during Seollal the ancestors’ spirits will return to the house. Younger generations will also pay respect to elders by performing sebae which is the act of bowing down on knees or kowtowing. After sebae to the elders, the younger generations are gifted with money in the hopes the young people will make lots of money. In the UK, Seollal is a good chance to gather the family and tell them just how much they mean to you, or just a prime opportunity to spend time with them to have a catch up, especially as Seollal lands on a Friday this year so you have a weekend to celebrate!
Holidays aren’t holidays without delicious and special dishes to pig out on and Seollal has some great ones that you can whip up. The main food of Seollal is tteokguk, or rice cake soup. Tteok, rice cakes, are a versatile and staple ingredient in Korean food and found in many dishes like the savoury and spicy tteokbokki, or as a dessert in treats like ggultteok and songpyeon. Tteokguk is a soup consisting of tteok in a meat broth with added ingredients such as beef, sliced eggs and spring onions. Eating tteokguk on Seollal is meant to bring you good luck for the following months and also celebrate you aging a year! We’ve tried to explain this ageing system before, so check this post out if you want to know more.
We’ve tried making our own tteokguk before, but being complete Korean food chef novices, we’re sure everyone else out there can do better. These are a few recipes we found that seem good and easy to try: Maangchi’s recipe, Olivia Kim’s recipe, Visit Korea’s recipe. Most of the ingredients you’ll need can be found in every supermarket, although the tteok may be a bit harder to find. We’ve bought tteok in Centre Point Food Store, near Tottenham Court Road, and if you’re near New Malden or Golder’s Green there are many Korean supermarkets about. You can buy already sliced tteok, but if not you can just slice them at home or cut it in any shape you fancy!
Apart from tteokguk, lots of different jeons, or pancakes, are eaten, as well as seasoned vegetables, galbi and bulgogi. If you want something sweet, try out yaksik, which is sweet rice with nuts, or yakgwa which is a fried honey biscuit. You can buy yakgwa in Korean supermarkets, and as they are really delicious, be sure to get lots or regret it! Drinks such as sikhye, which is a fermented rice drink, or sweet sujeonggwa, a fruit punch, are also enjoyed along with all the delicious food. You’ll likely to be able to find sikhye in Korean supermarkets too.
Busan BBQ also has a special Seollal menu on February 1st, so if you’re in London and don’t fancy cooking yourself, you can have a night out with your family! It’s for one night only though, so if you want to go, be sure to book now. All details can be found here.
After food, what do you want? That’s right, presents! Traditional Seollal presents include items like ginseng and honey, which you can find in the UK easily. There’s also an emphasis on health during Seollal, so gifts to do with wellbeing are always popular. You could always try getting some loved ones some fancy toiletries from somewhere like Lush, where all products are handmade and ethical. We like the look of this Honey Farm gift set, as it’s got honey, fitting into the idea that honey’s a popular Seollal gift, and it’ll make you feel fabulous and rejuvenated!
As the holiday is very centred around ancestral rites, of which many involve the preparation of food, many Seollal gifts include food items.
Seollal has a tonne of games associated with it, many of which you can try out in your own home. Jegichagi is a game a bit like hacky sack. You could always try this out with something like a tennis ball at home, not strictly authentic we know, but a little bit of improvisation is always fun. Another popular activity is yeonnalligi, a sort of kite flying. With all the blustery weather we’ve been having lately, it seems like the perfect way to get outside and have some fun if you’ve got a kite at home. Of course, if those don’t sound like fun to you, as one of the big parts of Seollal is about coming together with family, we’re sure any game you can play with your family would be a great substitute.
So this year’s Seollal why not set some time aside, get together with the family and try out some Seollal traditions! If you do end up doing something to do with Seollal, why not tell us, we’d love to know!